Are mobile phones a health risk? - Sample Essay

Abstract In this report I aim to determine whether or not mobile phones pose a risk to our health. I will explain how mobile phone electromagnetic radiation can be perceived as dangerous, with reference to the EM spectrum. I will cite scientific sources of evidence which support both sides of the dispute, and will come to a reasoned conclusion as to how likely it is that mobile phones are a health risk. I will also evaluate the credibility of the sources used to support my conclusions, and list all the sources used throughout in a detailed bibliography.

Introduction Mobile phones are becoming increasingly popular in today’s world; with around 80 million handsets in Britain, there are now more mobiles than people [1]. They’ve become an essential part of our existence, in business, in our daily lives and in keeping in touch with our loved ones – however, there is growing concern that this technology is causing serious health problems throughout the population, such as lasting brain damage and cancer.

The Media consistently tends to portray mobile phones negatively, fuelling the public’s fears and misgivings: this study aims to determine from the scientific evidence whether or not mobile phones present a risk to our health. Main Points How might Mobile Phones be Hazardous to our Health? After studying numerous publications, I have found that if there are concerns about how mobile phones may pose a risk to the health of their users, they can be divided into two categories: The first is Electromagnetic Radiation from the phone damaging human cells and cause cancers and tumours.

The second is that the EM radiation from the handset creates a heating effect. What is EM Radiation? EM radiation is something we are exposed to all the time: TVs, radios, satellite communications, etc all use EM waves to transmit information. Light is a form of EM radiation, as are the UV rays from the sun. The danger is that EM waves with a high frequency (UV rays, X-rays and gamma rays) are forms of ionizing radiation.

This means that they have enough energy to damage cells and their DNA by stripping electrons from, or in very high energy radiation, even break apart the nucleus of atoms [2] and as such can cause genetic malfunctions which can lead to cancers. What are the Possible Dangers of Mobile Phone EM Radiation? Cancer-Inducing Effects of Radiation Mobile phones use microwaves in order to transmit their information, and not UV, X or gamma rays.

Microwaves are not ionizing, and so are not as dangerous as the higher frequency EM waves. However, mobile phones are still relatively new technology, and the effects of prolonged exposure to non-ionizing radiation are still unknown, as is whether prolonged exposure to the microwaves of a mobile phone handset, especially so close to the brain, will cause any serious health damage. The Heating Effect of Radiation.

When EM radiation reaches an object, the photons’ energy causes the molecules of the surface they collide with to vibrate, creating thermal energy and warming the surface they collide with slightly. We use this everyday with infrared (another EM radiation) heaters etc. The concern here is that as handsets are held so close to the brain, this heating effect could warm the sensitive brain tissues, causing permanent damage.

This, as well as the concerns about the possibly cancer-inducing radiation of handsets, is thought to be more of a risk in children, who have thinner skulls and a still-developing nervous system [4]. Physiological Effects of EM Radiation Effects of Low-Frequency (Non-Ionizing) EM Radiation In General It is important to remember that Mobile Phones utilise Microwave radiation, a non-ionizing form of radiation, so in my research I have also looked at the effects of low-frequency EM radiation in general; not just in the application of mobile phone technology.

I have frequently found that concern for children specifically is raised as a common fear, and in the course of my research discovered an interesting study published by the Institute of Physics Publishing, which explored the effects of low-frequency electric and magnetic fields (i. e. those caused by EM radiation) on the foetus. The study concluded that the foetus was not exposed to electric and magnetic fields, though these fields were confirmed within the mother’s spinal chord. [5]

Cancers and Brain Tumours due to Mobile Phone Radiation? The vast majority of recent publications agree that current evidence suggests that mobile phones (both the handsets and broadcasting/receiving masts) do not cause cancers or brain tumours – two very recent sources, one a joint-statement from the Nordic Radiation Safety Authorities, the other a Mobile Phone Fact-Sheet published by the Heath Physics Society, both agree that there is no evidence for mobile phones causing adverse health effects [6] [7].

However, the joint-statement goes on to acknowledge that the technology which uses radiofrequency electromagnetic radiation is still relatively new – only two decades old – and so active research must continue into finding out whether or not there are health dangers presented by radiofrequency radiation – this is a view agreed upon by the World Health Organization (WHO), which state the available evidence does not point towards any increased health risks attributable to mobile phone exposure, though further research and risk analysis should continue.

[8] This said, the argument for mobile phones causing brain tumours still persists: the WHO also mentions that recent studies seem to suggest an increased risk of acoustic neuroma and certain brain tumours in users of analogue mobile phones for a time period greater than 10 years – A point corroborated by a 14 months study conducted by Dr Vini Gautam Khurana.

Khurana’s study concludes that “Malignant brain tumours may take several years to develop, and the incidence of malignant brain tumours is increasing. ” This suggests that mobile phones may have been causing brain tumours for several years previously, but due to the development period of these tumours, the effects would only just be becoming recognizable – and indeed the number of tumours is increasing.

Khurana also goes on to address the point introduced by the WHO, that “There is a growing and statistically significant body of evidence reporting that brain tumours such as vestibular Schwannoma (acoustic neuroma) and astrocytoma are associated with “heavy” and “prolonged” mobile phone use, particularly on the same side as the “preferred ear” for telephony. ” [9] In addition to Dr Khurana’s study, there are many older sources of information conjecturing about the issue – but most have been either outdated or discredited since their publication.

Finally, it is worth noting that the International Commission on Non-Ionising Radiation Protection (ICNIRP), one of the main bodies who set international non-ionising radiation safety limits, set these limits based only on the thermal effects (i. e. tissue heating) of mobile phone radiation [10], due to the fact that this is the only scientifically substantiated risk to humans from non-ionising radiation in large quantities – possible risks of cancer-inducement by the low-frequency radiation are not taken into account due to a lack of internationally accepted proof. Discussion

After studying the scientific publications and evidence above, I am of the opinion that the EM radiation of mobile phones cannot cause brain tumours or cancer because of the effects of ionizing radiation, as the microwaves emitted by mobile phones are simply too low-frequency to have the energy required; however, I do agree with the views of the NRSA [6] and the WHO [8], that as the utilisation of radiofrequency EM radiation is still a relatively new technology, it cannot fully be known at present whether or not it can still pose a health risk in the form of causing tumours by some other factor, and so research must continue – until conclusive evidence is found, I believe we should adopt a precautionary approach, minimising our use of mobile phones for extended periods of time.

I think that Dr Khurana [9] raises a very interesting point about the period of time needed for tumours to develop and their increasing incidence. This seems to me a plausible explanation for the current increases in tumour incidence; however, I believe it important to acknowledge that the apparent correlation between mobile phone usage and brain tumour incidence does not necessarily represent a causal link: the increase in tumour incidence comes at a time when improvements in diagnostic techniques are constantly being made, and also at a time when the world’s population is increasing dramatically, and so the incidence of tumours could be expected to likewise rise. Conclusion After considering the scientific evidence on both sides of the dispute, Are mobile phones a Health Risk?

I personally have come to the conclusion that mobile phones are unlikely to cause brain tumours or cancers because of the EM radiation emitted by either the handsets or their base stations. I believe this because, firstly, mobile phones use microwave radiation to transmit data, and microwave radiation does not have enough energy to be ionizing – it is my opinion that the media has demonised radiation in all forms by highlighting the dangers of ionizing radiation (e. g. Gamma rays – which have been proven to cause cancers) and from this the fears about mobile phone EM radiation have spawned. Secondly, I believe this as the overwhelming majority of recent studies have not found concrete evidence to suggest that mobile phones can cause tumours.

As to the danger of the heating effect EM radiation from mobile phones warming sensitive brain tissues and causing lasting damage, I believe that this is much more likely to present a potential health risk of mobile phones as, firstly, the scientific theory behind it seems sound to me – it is an established fact that colliding photons from EM waves imparts to the molecules of the surface collided with energy, which causes said molecules to vibrate and heat up, and secondly, in my opinion the fact that the ICRINP sets the international radiation safety levels based solely on this heating effect adds great weight to the plausibility of the argument that the heating effect of mobile phones could pose a health risk (although the EM emissions of mobile phones are well below these levels).

Overall therefore, I believe that there is some possibility that prolonged use of mobile phones (and so prolonged exposure to the heating effect of the EM radiation) could amount to a potential health risk and could cause lasting brain damage. I agree with the recommendation of the WHO to adopt a precautionary approach to mobile phone use; to only use them for extended periods of time when absolutely necessary. Evaluation of Credibility of References * [6] The Joint-statement from the NRSA – one of the most recent sources available, meaning that its content is highly likely to be up-to-date. The combined expertise of the NRSA greatly increases the sources reliability, as does the reputation of providing accurate and honest information that these authorities have to uphold.

However, it could be argued that some vested interest may exist as mobile phone giants Nokia and Erikson are based in Finland and Sweden respectively, and so the authorities may have been trying to protect their countries’ economies in the downturn by presenting mobile phones in a positive light. * [7] The HPS Mobile Phones Fact-sheet – this factsheet is again a very recent source, and again the HPS has a lot of expertise in matters of health-related physics; both of these factors increase the source’s credibility considerably. * [8] The WHO – although this source is quite old, which gives scope for it being outdated, the WHO is a very reputable source looked to internationally for recommendations for policy etc. due to its wealth of expertise and independence.

These three factors all increase its credibility, and in my view outweigh the age of the source (and in any case, the WHO would have updated its information if required). * [9] Dr Khurana PhD, FRACS’s study – Dr Khurana is a highly qualified individual with great expertise in the field, and furthermore included in his study a period of over 14 months of his own research, meaning that he had a great ability to see the effects of radiation on health, both of which strengthen the source’s credibility.

Bibliography of References * [1] Number of Mobile Phones in the UK statistic from: The Daily Mail – http://www. dailymail. co. uk/health/article-1224827/As-new-evidence-links-mobile-phones-greater-risk-tumours-using-cost-child-life. html Last Updated: 3/11/09 * [2]The U. S.

Environmental Protection Agency – http://www. epa. gov/rpdweb00/understand/ionize_nonionize. html Last Updated: 22/10/09 * [3] Image of EM spectrum from: The Australian Radiation Protection and Nuclear Safety Agency – http://www. arpansa. gov. au/mobilephones/mobiles1. cfm#1 * [4] Prof Kjell Mild, of Orbero University, Sweden – http://www. telegraph. co. uk/news/uknews/1565477/Mobile-phone-cancer-risk-higher-for-children. html Published: 8/10/07 * [5] The Institute of Physics Publishing – http://www. iop. org/EJ/article/0031-9155/52/4/001/pmb7_4_001. pdf? request-id=2266623f-5097-4aa8-a71d-fa1e83b6a0fc Published: 17/1/07 * [6] Joint-statement from the NRSA – http://www. stuk.

fi/stuk/tiedotteet/fi_FI/news_578/_files/82468261251448918/default/Nordic_Statement-EMF161109. pdf Published 19/11/09 * [7] HPS Mobile Phones Fact-Sheet – http://hps. org/documents/mobiletelephonefactsheet. pdf Adopted: September 2009 * [8] WHO – http://www. euro. who. int/HEN/Syntheses/MobilePhones/20061017_10 Last Updated 13/11/06 * [9] Dr Vini Khurana’s study – http://www. brain-surgery. us/mobph. pdf Copyrighted to G. Khurana 2008 * [10] The Human Ecological Social Economical Project – http://www. hese-project. org/hese-uk/en/niemr/icnirp. php Accessed 13/12/09 * [11] Image of Ionizing Radiation from: radiation, Science and Health inc. – http://www. radscihealth. org/RSH/docs/Pollycove98_Ottawa. html.